Looking at the connectivity of natural landscapes

How animals and plants can travel between natural land matters. This is how we measure your impact.

Our connectivity model was implemented through a collaboration between Biodiversity Scientist, Dr Lea Dambly and Software Engineer, Dr Simon Eberz. 

In the world we share with nature, natural landscapes are fragmented between our cites, farms and other ways we use the land. Human-made landscapes are difficult for species - animals or plants - to traverse, and some of our land uses are more difficult to cross than others. Being able to cross a landscape is important for multiple aspects of biodiversity, including;

  • Genetic diversity of species - being able to find mates who aren’t directly related to you increases the resilience of the species. Similarly for plants, being able to have your seeds or pollen dispersed widely.
  • New resources and food sources - if competition for food or prime living locations is high in one location, it’s important for species to be able to move somewhere else.
  • Migration - many species of wildlife migrate to follow their ideal weather patterns, seasonal sources of food or to find the best breeding grounds.

Measuring connectivity

We can quantify how easy or hard it is for species to cross a landscape by measuring its ‘connectivity’.

There are lots of ways to measure the connectivity of a landscape, our in-house model uses the concept of energy expenditure of an animal moving between its ideal patches of habitat. 

Let’s look at how it works

In an undisturbed landscape, the amount of energy required from an animal to move between habitat patches is indicated by the thickness of the line between the patches in the figure. For a longer journey, more energy is required and the lines are thicker. If the journey is too long the animal will not be able to make it.

The type of landscape between patches has a big impact on how much energy is required to cross it. If we have carved up the landscape with roads and urban areas, then it is much more difficult and energy consuming for an animal to cross. And most terrestrial animals cannot cross large bodies of water. In a fragmented landscape animals may alter their routes to minimise their exposure to human disturbances - the presence of “high resistance” land uses such as cities reduces the connectivity of the landscape for wildlife. In poorly connected landscapes, an animal may have to take a very circuitous route to get from one patch of habitat to another. And since animals don’t have a map of the best route from A to B movement between habitats can be limited, leading to negative impacts for the species.

A practical model, based on strong theory

Our in-house connectivity model is based on theory from several leading academic papers on how species move though landscapes. Connectivity of a landscape is summarised with “Equivalent Connected Area (ECA)”. ECA tells us how large a single, fully connected natural habitat patch would have to be to provide the same level of connectivity as the actual fragmented landscape; taking into account the size of each natural habitat patch and the probability of moving directly between two patches without passing through any others. This approach is “species agnostic”, meaning it is applicable to all animals, not just mammals for example, and it considers all land on a site, not just protected areas.

When you know about your connectivity you can take positive action. This could look like building wildlife corridors through poorly connected areas on sites - in the UK for a typical farm site this could be as simple as planting hedgerows around fields. For industrial estate sites, then wildlife corridors could be unmowed areas of wildflower grass, or “hedgehog tunnels” beneath roads.

Taking action

It all starts with building an understanding of how you share and impact the natural world around your sites. At natcap, we work with leading companies to establish robust nature intelligence making business decision-making simpler and beneficial to both nature and business in the long-term.

With various legislation coming into effect from early-2024, now’s the time for businesses to start measuring your impacts, dependencies, risks and opportunities when it comes to biodiversity and ecosystems.

Get in touch to see how you can start today.

Dark photograph of feathers overlayed with white outlines

natcap is the nature intelligence platform for your nature-positive reporting & action.

Identify where you should prioritise your efforts, understand your nature impacts and dependencies, disclose to stakeholders and take action.

See how it works...